November 18, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Holocaust Memories; Temple of the Arts Bash

From left: Remember Us Teen Board President Eva Suissa; Remember Us Director Samara Hutman; Samantha Lazaruk, Michele Rodri’s daughter-in-law; Remember Us Board Co-Chair Michele Rodri; and Remember Us Board Member and Child Survivors of the Holocaust Los Angeles President Lya Frank come together at a Yom HaShoah concert. Photo courtesy of Remember Us.

The Conejo Valley community gathered at the new home of Valley Outreach Synagogue on April 15 for “Music and Memory,” a Yom HaShoah concert that was the vision of Asher Mehr when he became a bar mitzvah last July.

For his bar mitzvah project, Mehr participated in Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, during which he came to know Michele Rodri, a survivor and Remember Us co-president. Mehr decided he wanted to help bring the memory of Rodri’s beloved brother, Maurice Rosenberg, who died in Auschwitz, back into communal memory and into the hearts and minds of his friends and family, said Remember Us Director Samara Hutman.

The concert featured pianist David Kaplan, cellist Kevan Torfeh and vocalist Rabbi Ron Li-Paz. The musical program included Beethoven’s “Appassionata,” for which Kaplan received a standing ovation.

“Like me, Maurice loved music, especially Beethoven,” Mehr said in the program notes. “Because Maurice loved Beethoven, I felt it was crucial that Beethoven be part of this afternoon.”

Mehr also performed “La Mer,” a 1946 song written by French composer, lyricist and singer Charles Trenet that was Rosenberg’s favorite song.

“I think music can reach where words cannot and that art can offer healing,” Mehr said. “I wish for survivors to be able to find a place together in music that can lift spirits from a time of vulnerability and rawness. I hope this concert to honor Maurice will provide an opportunity for community, light and comfort.”

Holocaust survivor Itzhak (Ernie) Hacker and his wife, Niza, pose together at Zikaron Basalon, Hebrew for “Memories in the Living Room,” during which Hacker shared his story of survival. Photo by Ayala Or-El.

Itzhak (Ernie) Hacker, born in Austria in 1929, had a happy childhood until the day the Nazis invaded his small village and ordered the Jews to pack up and leave.

“I still can’t imagine how a government can be so cruel,” said Hacker, 89, his voice trembling some 70 years since the Holocaust took place. “It’s unimaginable.”

Hacker was one of a dozen survivors who shared their stories in private homes across Los Angeles on April 9, two days before Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), as part of the annual Zikaron Basalon (“Memories in the Living Room”) project.

Established eight years ago in Israel, Zikaron Basalon, which provides Holocaust survivors the opportunity to share their stories in intimate settings, has grown into an international event. This year in Los Angeles, Zikaron Basalon was organized by the Israeli-American Council and held in several locations, including at the Woodland Hills home of Rakefet and Arye Aharon, where 180 guests listened to Hacker’s story in the Aharons’ spacious living room.

“Once we had arrived in Auschwitz,” Hacker continued, “the doors were opened [to the freight-train cars] and the SS officers started barking at us: ‘Schnell! Schnell!’ [German for “Quickly!”] We were separated into two groups — in one, the men, and in the other, the women, young children and old people. One of the first things I noticed was the smoke coming out of the crematorium. At first, I had no idea what was the meaning of it, but after a couple of days, I’d realized that those were my brothers and sisters who were going up in smoke.”

Hacker, who lives in Tarzana with his wife, Niza, was a teenager during the Holocaust. His memories of Auschwitz include a tattooed man who was murdered because an SS officer’s wife had taken a liking to his tattoo and wanted to use his skin for a new purse, and another man who tried to escape and had his testicles cut off as punishment.

Hacker also remembered acts of kindness in a place where humanity had ceased to exist.

“I was very thin and weak, but I missed my mom so much,” he recalled. “I wanted to see her and let her know I was still alive. So I wrote a note and walked to the fence, which separated the two blocks between the women and men sections. At the fence, I saw a Hungarian woman. I asked her if she knew where my mother was, but she shook her head. Still, I threw the note to her so she could give it to my mom. She picked it up and then took something out of her pocket and threw it toward me. It was a small piece of bread. If you gave me today $1 million, it wouldn’t mean as much to me. I asked her for her name and she said, ‘Agnes Genz Fried.’ I have never forgotten it.”

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, Temple of the Arts Board President James Blatt and Temple of the Arts Founding Rabbi David Baron attend the Temple of the Arts 25th anniversary fundraising dinner. Photo courtesy of Temple of the Arts.

Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts honored its founders and board of directors at an April 10 fundraising dinner, which also celebrated the synagogue’s 25th anniversary.

The evening at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills recognized Temple of the Arts’ founding rabbi, Rabbi David Baron, as well as the 10 members of the synagogue’s board of directors and the 10 members of the board of the Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center, both of which operate out of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

“We had a very successful event,” Baron said. “We exceeded our target goal by 20 percent, which is always great, and we had a great celebration.”

Beverly and Robert Cohen, owners of the Four Seasons, chaired the gala, which drew about 190 guests. Among those in attendance were Burt and Mary Hart Sugarman, who dedicated the synagogue’s new dressing room and green room; former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who presented the synagogue with a proclamation on behalf of the city of Beverly Hills; and Temple of the Arts President James Blatt, who presented the honorees with their awards.

Temple of the Arts was founded in 1992 with 50 members. Today, the synagogue has 1,400 members and continues its mission of connecting people to Judaism through music, drama, arts, dance and film, Baron said.

“We are an address for those who relate to art and religion, but we’re not conventional denominational Jews,” Baron said. “I feel we have carved out that niche.”

The synagogue purchased the Saban Theatre, an art deco building and a Beverly Hills historic landmark, in November 2005.

“By owning and operating our own venue, which is a historic theater, we are able to attract that part of the community,” Baron said. “That’s very gratifying.”

Temple of the Arts plans to open a preschool in a building it purchased recently on South Hamilton Drive, behind the Saban Theatre. The preschool is scheduled to open in September 2019 and is expected to serve about 60 children, Baron said.

The synagogue is in the process of searching for an assistant rabbi whose responsibilities will include working in the preschool, he said.

Allen and Deanna Alevy. Photo courtesy of Bnei Akiva Los Angeles.

Religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles has renamed its Modern Orthodox Zionist camp in Running Springs, Calif.

The new name, Moshava Alevy, became effective April 9. The camp was previously known as Moshava California, and before that as Moshava Malibu.

The renaming is “in gratitude to the generosity of Mr. Allen and Mrs. Deanna Alevy … in memory of their parents Norton and Sylvia Alevy,” the organization stated on its website.

Allen Alevy is an entrepreneur, futures trader and real estate investor who has provided funds to a variety of Jewish causes designed to strengthen Jewish connection, identity and longevity.

When the camp was launched in 2013, in partnership with the Shalom Institute, a nondenominational organization in Malibu, Bnei Akiva named its camp Moshava Malibu. When Bnei Akiva acquired its own site in Running Springs in 2014, it renamed the camp Moshava California.

The name change marks a new chapter for the camp and for Bnei Akiva, which, operating in the United States and Canada, is the self-described “premier religious Zionist youth movement dedicated to growing generations of Jews committed to building a society devoted to Torah and the Jewish people in the State of Israel.”

From left: JQ International honored (from left) Lynn Bider, Jacob Hofheimer and Maria Shtabsakya during its 2018 JQ Awards Garden Brunch. Photo by Anna Falzetta.

The 2018 JQ Awards Garden Brunch was held on April 15 at the Beverly Hills home of Dr. Jamshid Maddahi and Angela Maddahi.

JQ honored philanthropist Lynn Bider with the Community Leadership Award; Jacob Hofheimer, JQ’s first teenage and transgender honoree, with the Trailblazer Award; and Maria Shtabsakya, an LGBTQ leader and wealth management adviser, with the Inspiration Award.

The gathering, JQ International’s signature event, honored the work of prestigious LGBTQ and ally Jews in Southern California.

Other attendees included JQ Executive Director and Co-Founder Asher Gellis, JQ Assistant Director Arya Marvazy, and JQ board member Todd Shotz.

JQ International, which operates a variety of programs and services for the LGBTQ community, holds inclusion training for institutions, conducts workshops, runs a speakers bureau, has a Jewish Queer Straight Alliance for teens across Los Angeles, operates a JQ Helpline, and more.

Comedian Dana Goldberg served as host for the event, which drew 250 people and raised more than $140,000.

Events in Los Angeles – Sept. 8-14: Jewish Cuba exhibit, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico”

Sun., Sept. 10: Jewish Cuba Photography Exhibition

FRI | SEPT 8

“SHEBREW SHABBAT!”

JQ International welcomes back “Shebrew Shabbat!” Celebrate Shabbat in style with women and queers from the local LGBT community and enjoy a kosher meal, drinks, friends and the chance to meet new people. The event is geared toward those who identify with the concept of “womanhood,” but JQ International welcomes all people regardless of gender identity and/or expression. 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation $15 or $10 and a bottle of wine. JQ International, 801 Larrabee St., Suite 10, West Hollywood. (323) 417-2627. jqinternational.org/shebrewshabbat.

SUN | SEPT 10

JEWISH CUBA PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION

Learn about the rebirth of the Jewish community in Cuba through the photography of Martin Cohen, Andrew Dunbar and Liza Asner. The event is part of an effort to enhance the visibility of the Jewish community in Cuba, consisting of three primary projects: a coffee table art book, a traveling international photography exhibition and an educational program. There will be wine, appetizers and music. 6 p.m. Free. RSVP to quinceproductions@gmail.com. San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center, 18312 Oxnard St., Tarzana. cubajudaism.org.

FEDERATION FUNDRAISING

Join The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley or in central L.A. for a morning of philanthropy and phone calls in support of Federation’s 2017 annual campaign. For security reasons, all volunteers — who must be 18 or older to participate — are required to pre-register and sign up separately. Volunteers who have not yet made a donation to the campaign will be asked to do so at the event. 10 a.m. 19710 Ventura Blvd., Suite 105, Woodland Hills, or 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jewishla.org/pages/super-sunday-too.

IMMIGRATION LAWS AND ANCESTRY PROGRAM

A lecture by a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County will provide a short history of immigration and naturalization laws and provide general guidance in finding an ancestor’s documentation. 1:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101. adatelohim.org/Jewish-Geneaological-Society-s/5694.htm.

ADVOCACY TRAINING PROJECT

The “Presenting Your Advocacy Message” workshop will assist you in crafting a message to help you communicate effectively about your cause. You will gain skills and tools useful in speaking, writing, social media and all forms of communication. The event is the first of six workshops co-sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, the City of West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. 2 p.m. $20; $110 for six workshops. Attendees of all six workshops receive a certificate of program completion from the city of West Hollywood. National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8536. ncjwla.org.

MON | SEPT 11

HARVARD PROFESSOR LAURENCE H. TRIBE

The USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life presents the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture featuring Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. 4:45 p.m. reception; 5:30 p.m. lecture. Free. University of Southern California, 665 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4996. dornsife.usc.edu/warschawlecture.

TUES | SEPT 12

UNIVERSITY WOMEN OF AJU

University Women of American Jewish University’s opening event is a morning gathering featuring Robbie Rowe Tollin and Diane Miller Levin, producers of the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” A light breakfast is included. 10 a.m. $36; free for University Women members. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1211. uw.aju.edu.

SEPHARDIC HIGH HOLY DAYS “PREGAME” FESTIVITIES

Experience unique Sephardic High Holy Days customs and practices, featuring a musical Selichot jam led by Liran Kohn. Includes Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder cuisine and specialty cocktails. Hosted by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) and STTI Young Professionals. This event is for young Jewish professionals, ages 21-39. 7 p.m. $18; $30 at the door. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets and details at bit.ly/sephardicpregame2017.

WED | SEPT 13

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”

The American Freedom Alliance presents the powerful and timely film “Never Again Is Now.” The documentary investigates the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, told through the eyes of Evelyn Markus, a woman who escaped anti-Semitism by coming to the United States in 2006. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, Markus saw signs of the same disturbing trends returning to the Netherlands. She is confronting the hatred that drove her out of her homeland and is embracing her life’s mission of preventing the repeat of one of history’s darkest chapters. Q-and-A with Markus to follow. 6 p.m. buffet reception; 7 p.m. screening. $35; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. americanfreedomalliance.org.

ANNUAL YALA REAL ESTATE COCKTAIL PARTY

Unwind and have a drink while mingling with other real estate professionals at Young Adults of Los Angeles’ annual young real estate cocktail party. Ticket includes food and one drink; a cash bar will be available. Tickets must be purchased by 5 p.m. Sept. 11. 7 p.m. $18; $25 for two tickets. Palihouse, 8465 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood. yala.org.

THURS | SEPT 14

ONE LAST TOAST: ATID HAPPY HOUR

The High Holy Days are almost here, so let loose one more time before you start the new year. Atid events are for Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39. 7:30 p.m. Free. The Wellesbourne, 10929 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. atidla.com.

Brenner

“ANOTHER PROMISED LAND: ANITA BRENNER’S MEXICO”

The Skirball Cultural Center opens its new exhibition, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico,” which offers a new perspective on the art and visual culture of Mexico and its relationship to the United States, focusing on the important role in that relationship played by Brenner (1905–1974), a Mexican-born American-Jewish writer. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

MEGA HAFRASHAT CHALLAH

Join in this mega challah bake before Rosh Hashanah, and set the tone for the new year with a special prayer inviting parnasa and health into your home. 8 p.m. wine reception; 8:30 p.m. challah bake. $25; $36 at the door. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 451-1197. israeliamerican.org/hafrashat-challah.

Federation raises more than $1 Million on Super Sunday

From left to right: Ellen Silverman; Karmi Monsher, Federation board member; Rochelle Cohen, vice chair of the Federation board; and Jill Namm, Valley Alliance chair of the Federation. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Despite facing stiff competition — a beautiful, sunny Sunday after a day of heavy rain as well as the tense political climate — more than 300 volunteers helped to raise more than $1 million for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles during the organization’s Super Sunday phone-a-thon on Feb. 12.

“I do believe that, even though it may be more challenging to raise money in the Jewish community this year, the Jewish community will stand up and make the Federation a priority,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said during the event. “There are significant numbers of people who are writing checks to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but I don’t believe this will be a challenge for us.”

The pristine weather made it more difficult for the phone-calling volunteers to reach people at home, but they were still able to raise $1,091,808, a little less than the $1.3 million raised during the same event in 2016.

Among the volunteers who came to the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance offices in Woodland Hills were teenagers from various Jewish youth organizations and people who brought their children and grandchildren to show them the spirit of giving.

Ben Berger, 24, has been a Super Sunday volunteer since he was in sixth grade as a student at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. Berger, an actor, raised $30,000 last year but found this Sunday a little more challenging. “Not many people are answering the phone, but those who do never say no,” he said with a broad smile.

Sitting next to Berger was Andrew Hoffman, 36, also an actor, who was participating in his first Super Sunday. “I heard about the fundraiser through Facebook and decided to come,” Hoffman said. “So far, I wasn’t able to reach anyone on the phone, but I’m not going to give up.”

Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or, helpline director at JQ International, an organization that describes its work as increasing visibility and opportunity for LGBT Jews and their allies, recruited four volunteers for Super Sunday. One of them, Anna Goodman, 27, JQ’s program director, was working the phone tirelessly, calling people on a Federation list as well as her family and friends. She also talked to the teen volunteers about JQ, which is supported by Federation.

Volunteers make phone calls during the Jewish Federation’s Annual Super Sunday on Feb. 12. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Volunteers make phone calls during the Jewish Federation’s Annual Super Sunday on Feb. 12. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Sanderson said the Federation has been holding the annual Super Sunday event for more than 25 years, with the funds raised going to support many initiatives. “Touching Jewish lives from the moment a child is born and on, training early childhood educators in Jewish schools and synagogues, summer camps, PJ Library, college campuses and much more,” he said. “Sixty percent of what we do is about tomorrow, the future of the Jewish community.”

Among the volunteers were three friends — Jay Mangel, Larry Cohen and George Hess who came with their wives and have been active Federation members for many years.

“We went to Israel on a Mensch Mission and also to different cities in the States,” said Mangel, a certified public accountant. “One of the projects we participated in was we built a house in New Orleans.”

Cohen, who owns an advertising agency, has been volunteering at Super Sunday for the past 20 years. “It’s a great cause and it’s nice being with people who share the same values and ideas,” he said. “We’d rather support the Federation than go out to protest. And besides, it’s cheaper than a date night.”

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.


Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.


Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.


Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.


Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.


Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!


Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

geller2

[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.


Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.


Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader

glaser-patty-hi-res

Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.


Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center

brian-greene

My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.


Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.


Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.


Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles

hutman

Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.


Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.


Kosha Dillz

Rapper

kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.


Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com

esther

I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.


Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  


Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.


Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.


Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.


David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA

myers

 

I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.


Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.


Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.


Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.


Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?


Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.


Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.


Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.


Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.


Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?


Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.


Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

JQ helpline responds to Orlando

“When the first responders arrived at Pulse, they called out: ‘If you’re alive, raise your hand.’ ”

Such was the scene described by Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or of JQ International, when she took to a podium at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) in West L.A. during a candlelight vigil June 13, one night after a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., was the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

It was a brutal rampage that lasted hours and continued until early morning. At the crack of dawn, the street was littered with broken glass, ambulances and stretchers.

As the director of a helpline run by the nonprofit that serves the Jewish LGBTQ community, a national tragedy like this immediately propelled Bat-Or to action. 

“I went into high-work mode,” she told the Journal. “I was so focused on doing something.”

At BCC, Bat-Or spoke with candor, urging the audience to be more proactive within their communities: to write letters — not only to politicians, but to friends and family; to volunteer; to help organize inclusion trainings.

On average, JQ International’s Helpline receives eight to 10 calls a week — each of which is forwarded to Bat-Or’s cellphone, where she’s on call six days a week — but just days after Orlando, the number of calls tripled, she said. 

“Most wanted to talk about their fears and have someone listen and understand,” Bat-Or said.

One ominous issue about the Orlando shooting is that it took place in a nightclub, she told the Journal.

“The fact that it happened at a bar made it that much worse,” Bat-Or later said. “We have come to see bars as safe zones for us, and they clearly aren’t.” 

JQ International’s own offices are located above a bar, and the organization’s security concerns currently are being addressed by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Safety Initiative.

In the wake of recent events, Bat-Or said the Helpline is focusing on how to better serve the community. “Two things that are very important to us right now are gathering resources for callers and, just in general, getting the word out,” she explained over the phone. 

“Getting the word out” for Bat-Or means focusing attention on LGBTQ inclusion training sessions for places of education, business and worship. Soon, she’ll host a workshop about LGBTQ awareness at the Southern California Board of Rabbis’ annual pre-High Holy Day conference. She hopes that this workshop will inspire rabbis to discuss LGBTQ issues in their sermons when they take to the bimah this upcoming holiday season. 

The idea for the Helpline was conceived in 2012, when JQ’s founder Asher Gellis and JQ board member Janelle Eagle realized there was a need within the community for people searching for resource referrals and LGBTQ information. It was officially launched two years later thanks to seed funding from Federation’s Caring for Jews in Need Initiative and a $250,000 Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.

JQ’s Helpline is still in the early stages of development. Since March of last year, about eight volunteers have been attending training sessions each week during which they do role-playing, resource research, and team-building exercises. The backgrounds of these volunteers are diverse — they hail from Orthodox to Reform upbringings, LGBTQ and ally, ages 28 to 67. And yet they are unified by a singular purpose.

Although JQ Helpline is a Jewish-funded program, its scope goes beyond religious affiliation. The type of call JQ typically gets ranges from parents looking for gender-fluid Jewish day schools to individuals searching for LGBTQ-friendly recovery centers. 

One recent caller, a 46-year-old lesbian mother of three originally from Tehran, Iran, now living in Orange County, called the Helpline to receive legal counsel after her ex-husband threatened her custody of their children. 

“We are Muslim,” she said about herself and her newfound life partner, also a Muslim woman. “JQ is there to help everybody. We are proud to be part of the JQ community.”

As JQ Helpline continues to expand, Bat-Or mentioned it continues to search for extra funding, expanding staff and volunteers. After all, it’s the only resource and social service referral line specifically designed to serve LGBTQ Jews, their families and allies in the United States. By summer 2017, the Helpline hopes to have 20 trained volunteers answering calls in shifts.

The Helpline is accessible by email at helpline@jqinternational.org and by phone at (855) JQI-HLPS. 

Shavuot and Pride Week: A double holiday turns to grief

Jewish mysticism holds that every year at around midnight on Shavuot, the skies open up, as they did in the Torah story over Mount Sinai, for prayers to ascend to God.

Not long after the skies were supposed to have opened this year, 49 people were murdered by a terrorist in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and 50 more were wounded — the deadliest mass shooting in American history. 

On the opposite side of the country in Los Angeles, news of the massacre instantly transformed what would have been a festive, double-holiday weekend — Shavuot and pride week — into a community-wide exercise in grief, courage and solidarity.

Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood learned about the massacre in a text from the shul’s rabbinic student as she was preparing for the Sunday morning holiday service. The devastating news came after a long night at a Shavuot teach-in with seven other Reform synagogues at Stephen Wise Temple.

The news quickly put a damper on a weekend that began at Kol Ami with a Friday evening gay pride service.

“We prayed for the welfare of lesbian, gay and transgender people; we prayed for our straight allies and friends,” Eger said in a phone call with the Journal. “And then you wake up the day after Shabbos in the midst of supposedly a holiday where we’re wishing each other ‘chag sameach’ [happy holiday].”

She added, “I said to my congregation this morning, ‘I don’t really feel like I can do the joy part this morning.’ I can’t wish them a happy holiday.”

By the time the pride parade was starting in West Hollywood on June 12, the news was beginning to percolate through concerned calls, texts and social media posts.

Neil Spears, a board member at JQ International, a Jewish LGBTQ support and educational organization, read about the massacre before he even got out of bed. But the news suddenly became personal when he got a call on his way to the parade from a friend who had been at the nightclub that evening.

The friend was calling to tell Spears about a man who’d been heading to the L.A. pride parade when he was arrested in Santa Monica with weapons and supplies for explosives. 

He also mentioned that a friend of his had been killed in Orlando, and another was unaccounted for.

“I just had to sit down on the sidewalk,” Spears said. “I just had to stop and pause, because it hits really close to home.”

When he arrived at the JQ International office, which is on the parade route, he found that security had been stepped up because of the Santa Monica incident. He was supposed to lead a meeting of the Jewish Queer Straight Alliance (JQSA), a group for teens, but entry to the office was restricted to minors. So they met on the sidewalk with the parade in full swing.

At one point, Ron Galperin, L.A.’s city controller and the first openly gay person elected to citywide office, came by on a float while Spears was meeting with the teens.

“I said to them, ‘That guy up there is gay and Jewish,’ and then they cheered,” he said. “They were happy to know that.”

In advance of the parade, Galperin released a statement saying, “The parade is a chance for the LGBT community to come together in the name of love — love for one another and for ourselves. Today we extend that love to our brothers and sisters in Orlando and march in solidarity with them.”

Tami Miller, JQ International’s development director, who marched in the parade with people from her organization and other Jewish groups, said that the number of marchers was lower than in years past because of the holiday.

She said she hadn’t heard about the massacre until after she arrived at the pride parade — by which time, fortunately, she had a group of friendly faces to help her cope.

“Today was our vigil,” she said. “And the way we did our vigil is to be proud and be strong.”

Miller added that the organization will be looking to expand its program, offering inclusion training for Jewish organizations on how to interact with LGBT issues and vice versa.

At the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards, Beth Chayim Chadashim Cantor Juval Porat and Rabbi Heather Miller stood alongside a banner reading “World Congress of GLBT Jews.”

Speaking from the parade by phone with the Journal later that day, Porat said events such as the shooting in Orlando should galvanize the community around LGBT issues.

“Today, LGBT people and their allies should march prouder and louder and more colorful, and just shout out the values upon which I believe society can be healthy — and that is love and acceptance and inclusion and, most of all, less focused on fear and less focused on bashing others and judging others. … It might sound banal and trite, but this is what it’s about. It’s not easy; we’re trying to model that,” he said.

Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a national organization that works toward LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community, said in a statement that she had been contacted with messages of solidarity from Christian and Muslim leaders. 

“When the shooter opened fire, many Jews were observing the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates when the Jewish people stood together at Mt. Sinai,” the statement read.

It continued, “So, too, we stand together in solidarity with the people of Orlando and with LGBTQ people and allies everywhere.”

Rabbi Zach Shapiro, who leads Temple Akiba in Culver City and is married to Galperin, offered his thoughts in an email to the Journal.

“Ecclesiastes teaches, ‘There is a time to be silent and a time to speak,’ ” he wrote. “While a moment of silence may feel appropriate in memory of the precious souls that were murdered — silence won’t make the very real issues we face disappear.” 

He added, “It is a time to speak to each other. We can only face these issues when we engage in earnest, and often difficult, conversations.”

Hate at the Creating Change Conference

After four years of attending the Creating Change Conference, I was shocked and dismayed by the anti-Semitism I experienced at the 2016 conference last month in Chicago. Let me give you some background and then I will tell you what happened to me.

I was expecting to reconnect with my colleagues and friends from all over the world. Imagine thousands of LGBTQ and ally activists gathering each year to celebrate, learn from one another and grow as an international community. Creating Change is the LGBTQ National Task Force’s pride and joy. It’s an environment that is supposed to excite participants, fuel their drive to be activists and celebrate all the facets of our vibrant LGBTQ communities. With so much social justice work to be accomplished, it is usually an awe-inspiring experience to see individuals riled up to make a difference in the world.

At each conference, there is a Jewish Working Group that hosts a range of workshops and programs meant to strengthen the intersection of LGBTQ and Jewish identities. Two of those events planned for this year were a community-wide Friday night Shabbat service, followed by a reception at a different location, with speakers from the Jerusalem Open House (JOH) and hosted by A Wider Bridge, the pro-Israel organization created to connect Israelis, LGBTQ North Americans and their supporters. After months of recovering from the deadly extremist attack during last summer’s pride march in Jerusalem, the JOH has been busy caring for its community. This was an opportunity to lift up the leaders of JOH. As the organizers from A Wider Bridge said, it was a chance to embrace JOH as part of a global community with common goals across borders regardless of religion, nationality or citizenship.

Our Shabbat service was a beautiful event and concluded with Salaam, a Hebrew and Arabic song with lyrics that speak of peace for all people. The second that our service was over, we heard the raised voices of hundreds of protesters waiting for us in the hallway just outside the service. They were calling for the destruction of Israel. They were yelling that we are the “oppressors of people of color.” They yelled that we were “responsible for Black people being killed and sterilized.” We weren’t at the reception for JOH yet, but for those of us who went, the crowd of protesters were there attempting to block us the entire way.

At the reception, they blocked the door, letting only some of us through. Within minutes, they stormed into the reception and took over the stage. The representatives from the JOH had to be escorted out to safety. Protesters continued to run around and scream in our faces. After 30 minutes of this relentless screaming, the event was shut down.

I was reminded of the stories I’ve heard and read about the European ghettos being stormed by torch-wielding anti-Semites, blaming our ancestors for countless horrors. Fortunately, none of us were physically injured, but many of us were yelled at for the rest of the weekend and called “Zionist racist oppressors.”

My own personal views were irrelevant to these protesters. I am what most people would consider to be on the left of the discussion about Israel and how it should it make peace with the Palestinians. But because they saw me as an Ashkenazi Jew, they cast me into a group to be demonized and attacked. They gave up an important opportunity to find a connection with me and instead labeled me a racist because of what I looked like and because I am a Jew.

The organizers of the Creating Change Conference have expressed apologies and made statements about the events that transpired, being careful not to blame one group over another. However, their statements make it clear that the organizers need to revisit their own policies so something like this doesn’t happen again.

Those of us in the Jewish Working Group spent several days supporting one another and standing strong against those who were bullying us. Our goal is to always share as many viewpoints and opinions as possible in order to have an honest and transparent dialogue. Where we go from here is still to be determined, but as one of the leaders of JQ International and the Jewish Working Group of Creating Change, I promise we will continue to work to eliminate the type of incorrect assumptions about LGBTQ Jews that were displayed at the conference. We will continue to demand safe spaces for all community members regardless of their skin color, religion or nationality.

I don’t have a quick fix for the problem at hand, but for those of us who have spent our lives working on social justice causes, we know that, unfortunately, the solutions are never swiftly realized.


Asher Gellis is executive director of JQ International, jqinternational.org.

JQ International opens its WeHo doors

It was 9 p.m. on a Thursday and Asher Gellis, founder of the out-and-proud nonprofit JQ International, was sitting on a barstool at Revolver, a West Hollywood hot spot, as scantily clad performers shimmied on tabletops. 

Earlier that evening, his blooming organization had hosted a housewarming party upstairs — complete with a mezuzah hanging — at its new headquarters. Referred to as “JQlub,” the new digs are a big transition for JQ, which up until the previous week was run out of Gellis’ Echo Park apartment.

Nearly 100 people attended JQlub’s unveiling, the air charged with excitement as board members and community allies scouted the cozy 800 square feet of new territory. With brand-new floors, teal walls and big, bright windows that overlook the traffic and neon signage of Santa Monica Boulevard, JQlub’s new space feels more like a Greenwich Village studio loft than a nonprofit’s meeting space. Then again, JQ isn’t your typical nonprofit.

It goes back to when Gellis, now 39, was 26 and undergoing major life transitions. He had just left his job within the Jewish community, broken up with his Jewish boyfriend and was left thinking, “Where do I go now?” Searching for his place within Judaism, he founded a community of his own with JQ. 

“It started as a community and then turned into a nonprofit,” Gellis said.

Currently, JQ is an integral resource for the Jewish LGBTQ community, spearheading programs for teens (The Valley Jewish Queer Straight Alliance) as well as organizations, schools and workplaces (Inclusion Consulting). It also offers a social service referral call center for LGBTQ individuals and their families (The Warmline). JQ even paired with Birthright to help host two LGBTQ-friendly trips within the last three years, with more trips slated.

That’s all to say JQ has been busy, but it couldn’t have done it alone.

“It’s amazing to be a gay Jew now, when the Jewish community has made the LGBTQ cause their No. 1 cause,” Gellis said enthusiastically. With hands-on support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, he said, “We’re not just getting funding, we’re getting partnership.”

Scott Minkow, vice president of partnerships and innovation for Federation, spoke at the JQlub housewarming, giving credit to Federation president Jay Sanderson and others. He said he’s proud of the work Federation and JQ are accomplishing together.

“This is not the Federation of your parents,” he said. “This is not even the Federation of five, 10 years ago.”

JQ board member Neil Spears gushed about the need for JQ and its new space. Before the ceremony, he told the Journal, “It’s important that we have a space, but what’s more important is what’s going to happen here.” 

Todd Shotz, founder of Hebrew Helpers and chair of JQ’s board of directors, told the Journal that JQ finally gave him a place to embrace both of his identities: “I’m Jewish and I’m gay,” he said. 

Shotz was one of many volunteers who labored for a month renovating JQlub. “I painted those floorboards,” he said, pointing to his craftsmanship. And after all that sweat and toil, “I’m glad we finally have our own space,” Shotz said.

“It’s a miracle in the LGBT world,” mused Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or about JQ’s existence. She officiated the ceremony at JQlub for hanging a mezuzah — a ceramic tallit inscribed with the Hebrew letter shin

“Everyone who walks through this space is protected by the doorposts of Israel,” Bat-Or told the Journal after everyone had left the space and gone downstairs for an after-party at Revolver. Bat-Or, also a family therapist, runs The Warmline and said it received 450 calls last year, and more are expected this year.

Meanwhile downstairs, JQ board members and allies mingled at the nightclub. Gellis was the man of the night, as people lined up to speak with him. When Gellis was a teen, he said, he remembers haunting similar establishments; not prepared to “come out,” he’d occasionally muster up the confidence to frequent these spots solo. 

“It was horrifying and terrifying. I’d walk in, walk around the tables and walk out,” he reminisced about his gay club rendezvous while sipping a cocktail. But now, 20 years later, his offices and headquarters are located just above this thriving nightclub. 

It’s a big step for JQ’s founder, who instead of attending this club solo, was accompanied by his French boyfriend, Arthur Guillosson, sitting proudly by his side. 

“He’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met,” said Guillosson about Gellis. “He reconnected me with my Judaism.”

LGBT Persian Jews live in changing times

Although attitudes are becoming increasingly accepting toward homosexuality in the Jewish community, prejudices remain in the typically more conservative Persian community. To help bridge the gap, JQ International — a nonprofit, Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to supporting LGBT Jews — held a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

The March 19 event, held at Spice Affair Indian restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, drew more than 100 people, including Jews and Muslims, for dancing, drinking and shmoozing from 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Attendees enjoyed Persian snack food, Indian entrees and cocktails and filled the dance floor as a DJ played upbeat Persian sounds. 

As the evening went on, the energy of the room went up a notch. Couples and groups boogied on the floor, showing off traditional Persian moves — arms extended outward and rotating in circular motions, knees bent — and even the older members of the mostly male crowd were showing signs of life. 

Among those celebrating Nowruz, whose official observance was March 21, was a 74-year-old man named Jansheed, who declined to provide his last name and who came from Newport Beach for the event.

“I was always out — I was never in,” he told the Journal when asked when he came out of the closet.

Born Muslim, the man described himself as nonreligious. He attributed the growing acceptance of LGBT people to education and “television, radio and newspapers that say, ‘It’s all right to be gay.’ ”  

Asher Gellis, executive director of JQ International, said this was the first time the organization coordinated an event specifically for the LGBT Persian community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and ROI Community helped put on the event. 

JQ International board of directors member Shervin Khorramian, who spent his 20s living in Asia and Europe, according to the JQ International website, said there was a specific goal to the gathering. 

“This event is really a chance for us to get the Persian community together, specifically, the gay Persian community,” he said. “It’s an effort to get people together and create a Persian community for the gay Persians of this city.”

Many of the attendees at the event were still in the closet, Gellis said. 

Attendee David Kianmahd indicated that this type of party could be just the beginning, as more gay Persian Jews come out of the closet and parents of LGBT Persian Jews have to change their attitudes if they are still hanging on to biases against homosexuality.

“I feel like there is this new, young generation starting to come out,” he said. “It’s kind of forcing parents to deal with it.”

Meanwhile, Khorramian, 44, who said he came out to his friends and family approximately 20 years ago, has been dedicating his life to promoting inclusion for LGBT Persian Jews ever since. He drew a parallel between his personal journey and that of the larger community. 

“It’s been a real step-by-step process, learning to accept, having them [my family] accept back — it’s been a give-and-take, and now I can say after 22 years, we’ve really crossed the Rubicon. This is it, we’ve crossed the point where we are in a position of being accepted. Fifty years from now, we are going to look back, and we will no longer have to say whether we are out or not, we just are,” he said. “We’re taking that final journey.” 

Moving and shaking: The Dead Sea Scrolls, JQ International, JIMENA and more

“Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition” represents not only “the birth of modern Judaism but also of Christianity … and later, Islam. … So we’re really celebrating the Abrahamic traditions and monotheistic religions,” explained David Siegel, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, during a press conference last week.

Siegel was introduced by Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center, which is hosting the highly anticipated show. Siegel spoke of partnering with the center and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to bring to Los Angeles the scrolls, mostly religious texts that date from 250 B.C.E. to 68 C.E., as well as more than 600 artifacts from the Israelite period.

In an interview after the press conference, Siegel called it “the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century and the largest-ever exhibition coming out of Israel.

 “The exhibition is also significant in the way that it is not political,” he added.  “It’s not about news headlines, but the significance of Israel to world religions and to all peoples, all nations.”

But whenever Israel is involved, it seems, politics are likely to simmer, at least beneath the surface.  At the press conference, Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the IAA, alluded to the Palestinian Authority’s claim to ownership of the scrolls.  “[But] the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by Jews and are part of the spiritual assets of the Jewish nation,” Dahari said.  “It is our right to possess the scrolls — it’s not a legal but a moral issue.”

In an interview, Dahari explained that the first seven scrolls discovered by Bedouins in a cave near Qumran in 1947 were eventually purchased by Israeli archaeologists and are now housed at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.  When the northern part of the Judean desert came under Jordanian rule in 1953, it was the Jordanians and others who discovered 900 more scrolls in caves at Qumran. The area of Qumran has been in Israeli hands since the Six-Day War in 1967.

“The scrolls were not excavated by Palestinians … so they have no demands upon Israel,” Dahari said. “But the Palestinians say, “No, the excavations took place in the West Bank, and the West Bank is our property. However, according to international laws, they’re not, because Palestine is not [yet] a state. And even if it becomes a state in the future, this has nothing to do with the past.”

 Still, he admitted, “I am afraid for the future of the scrolls.”

— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor


With a record 1,100 people in attendance, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) held its seventh annual gala March 8 at the Beverly Hilton and announced the purchase of a $10 million property in Winnetka that will be used as a community center. IAC plans to announce the exact location of the site at a future time.

The gala brought in $23.4 million for the IAC, with casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, pledging $12 million. Haim Saban, who was seated next to the Adelsons, pledged $1.2 million.

“Sheldon is 10 times richer than me,” Saban quipped to the crowd. “I said to Sheldon, ‘Listen, whatever you give, I’ll give one-tenth.’ ”

The IAC gave real-estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black a lifetime achievement award for his decades of support for Israel, and the evening’s honorees were Roz and Jerry Rothstein, founders of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy group. Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, delivered a pre-recorded video message that thanked the IAC and acknowledged its role in strengthening the State of Israel from the United States.

Comedian Modi Rosenfeld was the evening’s master of ceremonies. At one point, he asked the crowd, “How many of you don’t speak Hebrew?” When a good portion of the audience raised their voices, he responded, “This is going to be the longest night of your lives.”

— Jared Sichel, Staff Writer


JQ International honored several successful LGBTQ role models from the arts community as well as a gay religious leader during its annual awards brunch March 8 at the historic Wilson Harding Golf Course Clubhouse at Griffith Park. 

From left: Rabbi Barbara Zacky, Bruce Vilanch, JQ International Executive Director Asher Gellis, Faith Soloway and Andrea Meyerson. Photo courtesy of JQ International

Those being feted were folk musician and writer Faith Soloway (JQ Inspiration Award), who also is a writer for “Transparent,” the show created by her sister Jill Soloway; comedy writer and performer Bruce Vilanch (JQ Trailblazer Award); filmmaker Andrea Meyerson (JQ Visibility Award) and Rabbi Barbara Zacky (JQ Community Leadership Award).

“After I came out, I identified strongly as a Jewish lesbian, but there weren’t many places that honored all of me,” Zacky said in a statement. “JQ has created an open and inclusive community of LGBT Jews and I’m so glad to be a part of that.”

Approximately 165 people turned out for the event.

JQ International describes itself as an inclusive community for LGBTQ Jews that raises awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ community members in the Jewish world.  

“We create programs and services that foster a healthy fusion of LGBTQ and Jewish identity, which offer LGBTQ Jews, their friends, families, and loved ones the opportunity to connect with each other while fostering a strong sense of self,” the organization’s website indicates.


“Voices of Dissent: A Refugee’s Story,” a recent panel discussion at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, included topics ranging from Iranian Jews and other minorities in Iran, to Coptic Christians’ struggles in Egypt under Muslim rule, to Yazidis in Iraq who are suffering under ISIS.

From left: Raymond Ibrahim, Gina Nahai, Elias Kasem and Karmel Melamed. Photo by Natalie Farahan

The Feb. 26 event featured Jewish Journal contributor and attorney Karmel Melamed, author Raymond Ibrahim and activist Elias Kasem.

“The Iranian regime is a human rights disaster, and we’re not talking about it in the United States,” Melamed said. “No one is covering it, and it is shameful. The nuclear [issue] is getting a lot of coverage, I don’t get into that, but the plight of Christians, of Baha’is, artists, even just regular Muslims who don’t agree with the regime — they are facing horrible human rights situations.” 

Author and Journal columnist Gina Nahai moderated the event, which drew approximately 30 attendees and was sponsored by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

Among those in attendance were Natalie Farahan, JIMENA’s Los Angeles program director; Kelsi Copeland, communications and program manager at Kol Ami; Sadie Rose-Stern, the congregation’s executive director; and Siamak Kordestani, assistant director at American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

A new resource for LGBT Jews

In 2009, nine years into Shelby Ilan-Pacheco’s marriage to her husband, she came to know with certainty something she had felt for so long. She was gay. But knowing this and doing something about it, doing anything, really, were two different things. 

“I was paralyzed,” recalled the Valley Village resident, whose two children were very young at the time. “I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had a support system, but I didn’t have a huge circle of friends in the gay community.” She considered going to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. But, she said, “I was afraid to go by myself. I also wanted that Jewish community.” 

She reached out to the Los Angeles-based JQ International, which serves the Jewish LGBT community. They helped her find a Jewish mental health professional. And Ilan-Pacheco started attending JQ’s Shabbat dinners and special events regularly. 

“It gave me a sense of calm, peace and community,” she said.

Last month, inspired by stories like Ilan-Pacheco’s, and hundreds of calls over the years from LGBT Jews and their family members seeking support, JQ International launched a warmline (855-574-4577), which is more or less a hotline, but with limited hours — in this case, about 10 hours a week (although JQ hopes to expand those hours in the future). Theirs is a free service available to anyone who self-identifies as LGBT and Jewish, as well as their family members and loved ones. Callers can remain anonymous and are also welcome to email (warmline@jqinternational.org). 

The birth of the warmline, and in particular, the involvement of Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or, who is also a marriage and family therapist, began serendipitously. On the day last year that Bat-Or was scheduled to talk with JQ executive director Asher Gellis and board member Janelle Eagle about how she might get involved with the organization, Gellis received a phone call en route to the meeting. 

“It was someone out of state who was concerned about her son,” recalled Bat-Or. “She had put ‘Jewish’ and ‘gay’ into the computer and came up with our phone number. I ended up talking to her and had the experience of how needed the warmline was.”

Shortly thereafter, representing JQ and the dream of a warmline, Bat-Or applied to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ social entrepreneurship program, PresenTenseLA, and was selected as one of 11 fellows. The eight-month part-time program, which paired her with both a coach and a mentor, culminated on May 21. And that evening, at PresenTenseLA’s Launch Night, a splashy event held at the Pacific Design Center, the warmline officially became a reality. A $30,000 grant from Federation to JQ helped to set up the infrastructure and cover Bat-Or’s part-time salary.

The calls and emails thus far have run the gamut. “We get quite a few calls from people wanting therapists,” Bat-Or said. “We’ve also gotten calls from people who have LGBT people in their house, and they need more information on how to be welcoming.” Several calls have been from parents of LGBT Jewish teens “who are coming out or are already out and need support.” Every call, said Bat-Or, is “on a scale of important to completely urgent. One urgent one we had was from a young man who emailed me that he was getting out of a relationship with domestic violence and needed a place to stay that night.”

While Bat-Or does not provide counseling services per se in this role, she networks with a number of other organizations and professionals — many, but not all, Jewish. In the case of the immediate needs of the young man, for instance, Bat-Or called every shelter she could find. “I was able to gather a lot of resources, which I gave him,” she said. 

Some might question the need for such a niche service. There are a number of Jewish warmlines and hotlines, and several already serve the LGBT community. But, according to Gellis, there are reasons people might be reluctant to go these routes.

“The Jewish community has certainly embraced the LGBT cause as one of their major social justice issues,” Gellis said. “But it’s very new. It has not really permeated through the entire community. It’s more on an activist level. So you have individuals like myself raised in L.A. at a Conservative synagogue. I had no gay Jewish role models growing up. I thought I was going to have to make a choice between being gay or Jewish. I would not think I could turn to Jewish Family Service (JFS).” In fact, Gellis said, JFS is very LGBT-friendly, and the two organizations regularly collaborate.

“The same thing goes in reverse,” Gellis added. “It’s very hard for somebody coming from the Jewish community who is not out, who lives in L.A., to walk into the Gay & Lesbian Center in Hollywood. The chances of running into someone they know are ridiculously low. But if you’re a Persian Jew or an Orthodox Jew, that’s a terrifying thing.”

Starting in the fall, Gellis hopes to offer training sessions to people interested in manning the warmline. The goal will be to have a cadre of 20 trained volunteers committed to at least six months of service. “We’d like to have this open 30 hours a week,” he said. For now, though, it’s just Bat-Or, and she loves the work.

“It’s so gratifying,” she said. “This is my rabbinate, a project of my heart and soul. My history is, I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. I tried to come out twice, but couldn’t because of the time, and where my family was, and where my head was, and what nice Jewish girls are supposed to be. Had there been a JQ warmline, if I had ever heard the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘Jewish’ in a sentence that was positive, it would have made a world of difference. For me, every phone call is for the person calling, but also for me personally.”

As for Ilan-Pacheco, she has a good relationship with her now ex-husband. Her kids are doing great. And she just got back from her honeymoon, with her new wife.

An old story finds new life in LGBT haggadah

Asher Gellis talks about his life with a modest but clear-eyed sense of wonder that fits his role as a young community activist who is just beginning to hit his stride. Next week, JQ International, an organization that has helped to nurture his development as a leader, will host a seder that will include readings from a new haggadah weaving the history of gay and lesbian people into the story of the Exodus.

Like the Jews emerging from their captivity in Egypt, Gellis said his own experience of oppression lent a special urgency to his quest to establish a community for people wandering in a spiritual desert. A decade ago, he was just out of college — and just out of the closet — and feeling very much alone in the wilderness.

“There was no place to be Jewish and gay in Los Angeles,” he said. “Some temples had gay programming, but they seemed more oriented toward people who were partnered, had kids.”

As a young man just discovering himself, Gellis said, he simply didn’t connect with communities oriented around family identity — conventional or otherwise.

Then he discovered a scattered group of like-minded young gays and lesbians who were beginning to coalesce into a community. They had a variety of backgrounds — from secular Jews who had been involved in JCCs to Orthodox Jews who had been through yeshiva.

“JQ International evolved organically,” said Gellis, who is now executive director of the Los Angeles-based organization, which focuses primarily on people in their 20s and 30s. “It’s a true grass-roots organization. Once we had a critical mass of people, things just took off.”

With deep roots in the Jewish communal experience, JQ International has grown to more than 600 members from the dozen or so who gathered for the organization’s first meeting in 2002. Most are in Los Angeles, but new chapters have just opened in New York and Arizona. JQ’s programs are at once social and socially aware — a game night doubles as a food drive, a picnic is also an occasion for planting trees in a local park.

And observances of Jewish holidays become opportunities for young LGBT Jews to mend the rift they often feel between their religious and sexual identities.

“It’s essential to the process of coming out to learn how to lead a less-compartmentalized existence,” Gellis said.

Integrating elements of Jewish identity into their experience as gay men or lesbians also encourages JQ’s relatively youthful members to develop a sense of pride in the legacy of LGBT activism.

“Often there’s no sense of transmitting history in the gay and lesbian community,” Gellis said. “A lot of younger gays and lesbians don’t know what Stonewall [the New York riots that prompted the LGBT liberation movement] was about, or they don’t know how they came to have the rights they have. That’s what being Jewish is about — having a good strong knowledge of who I am and where I come from.”

The upcoming Passover seder, which will be hosted by Hillel at USC on April 26, exemplifies the organization’s focus on integrating Jewish and LGBT identities through activism and traditional observance. A distinctive feature of the event is the alternative Seder plate — which holds a coconut.

“The coconut represents young closeted gay people,” Gellis explains. “Even though they’re sweet and tender-hearted on the inside, they’re also stuck inside a hard shell. It’s our way of remembering people who can’t be with us because they’re not out [of the closet] yet.”

But the element of the seder that’s generating the greatest excitement in JQ’s community is a new haggadah that documents the tradition that’s emerging as JQ evolves from an organization into a movement.

“Stories in gay and lesbian experience find a lot of parallels in the Passover story,” said Kevin Shapiro, a member of JQ’s board of directors and a graduate student in the MBA program at USC. “The main theme of Passover is exodus. The Jews went from being enslaved and not living lives of integrity to a period of freedom where they gained knowledge and a new level of awareness. That’s a good mirror for the experience of coming out.”

Shapiro joined JQ in 2004, after he heard about the organization through a friend and went to a Chanukah party where he met young people who were gay, Jewish and eager to integrate and deepen those identities through activism.

“I especially liked the fact that it was nondenominational,” Shapiro said. “Everyone was there because of the common experience of being gay Jews, regardless of their background.”

Shapiro said that while developing the haggadah has been a collaborative effort from the start, he traces his own enthusiasm for the project to his experience leading JQ’s seder two years ago.

“I took a couple of weeks to prepare,” he said. “I learned there were lots of different types of haggadot — for example, since the ’70s, there’ve been feminist versions and environmentally aware versions, in addition to basic historical narratives. But even though some of them included gay and lesbian elements, there was nothing that really worked for our people.”

Shapiro and the other members of the JQ community involved in the project have assembled the gay and lesbian components of other haggadot and added additional elements from LGBT history that resonate with the Passover story to produce an entirely new document that reflects the distinctive experiences and knowledge of their group. “Each haggadah captures the unique experience of the Jewish community that created it,” Shapiro said. “We’re taking a tradition we’ve created and putting it in the body of literature that sustains the Passover tradition. This has really been a codification process of a new chapter in Jewish history.”

Shapiro also points out that JQ’s haggadah is as much about recovering history as making it.